Pensacola Mardi Gras is smaller than others on the Gulf Coast, with a very family-friendly vibe. This year, with storm warnings and chilly rain, the crowd was fairly small. In fact, I didn’t see any point where the crowd was even two deep. The middle space, which is coveted by the kids who want to get extra throws from the last floats, was almost empty today when they closed it off.
The only time I really like seeing a bunch of policemen with flashing lights is at the beginning of a parade. About 10 minutes before it starts, the motocycles will make a few passes through, making sure the gates are closed off, but mostly just putting on a little bit of a show. With the slick streets today, the hotdogging was kept to a minimum.
How many of you believe that Mardi Gras is all about New Orleans? Or that it’s a season? Mardi Gras actually started in Mobile, where the hero of the parades is Joe Cain. Joe Cain Day in Mobile is the Sunday before Mardi Gras, named after the man who restarted the parades after the Civil War. New Orleans was the second city to hold Mardi Gras parades followed by Pensacola. Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, is only the day before Ash Wednesday. It’s the last day of indulgence before the beginning of Lent’s penitence. The season leading up to it is Carnivale, or Carnival, depending on whether you feel French or Spanish today, and it lasts from January 6, the last day of Christmas, until Fat Tuesday.
The parades are usually only the last week before Lent, and most of them take place the weekend before Mardi Gras since most people are working on Tuesday. Along the upper-Gulf Coast, most schools are closed on Mardi Gras, and some businesses close for the day. Many people in the rest of the country may not even realize it is Mardi Gras, but around here, it’s a pretty major holiday.
Each city has their own Mardi Gras style, from the drunken debauchery of New Orleans to the much more family-friendly parades in Pensacola. But at every one of them, there are floats that are manned by Krewes who throw beads, toys, and Moon Pies to the cheering crowd. The Krewes are service organizations, each with its own mission to do something for the city they’re chartered in. Many of them fulfill these missions quietly and really only flaunt their presence during the parades. Mardi Gras is only one of many that are seen in Pensacola; there are parades for many occasions around here, all marked by flying beads and Moon Pies.
Once the parade really starts, even with this small crowd, the noise level goes up exponentially. Screams of “Beads, gimme beads!!” and “Moon Pie!!” fill the air. On any other day, this might sound rude, but today it’s the way to drag down the loot. Almost every Krewe and group has beads, but some of them will have Moon Pies, or candy (not many today), or even t-shirts and stuffed animals. At other parades, we have gotten ice cream sandwiches and Lunchables, but not today.
Little kids and babies are often given the most beads and stuffed animals. The walkers beside the floats will drape the littlest kids with beads and hand them toys, until they are practically buried in them. Of course, it is the kids who have the most fun getting the trinkets and treasures, although there are plenty left for all the adults as well.
Music is a big part of the parade, with different songs blasting from each float. For most parades, there are many different marching bands as well, but the weather today kept many of them away. McGuire’s Pipes and Drums didn’t miss it, though. McGuire’s Irish Pub is a Pensacola favorite, and their pipers have come to be a symbol of Pensacola. No parade would be complete without them.
After all the floats have gone by, a fire engine and a police car bring up the rear. As they pass, the barricades are taken down and kids rush the street to pick up the loot that landed in the street.